When trying to choose between a nutritionist and a dietitian, know that there are important differences in their qualifications, scope of expertise and legal status as practitioners.
Dietitians and nutritionists are both concerned with the use of diet and nutrition to maintaining good health and prevent or treat health conditions. Registered Dietitians must meet certain educational and training qualifications but the term "nutrition" does not have any official legal status — one does not need any specific credentials before calling oneself a nutritionist. Some nutritionists choose to certify themselves, in which case they may be certified clinical nutritionists or certified nutrition specialists.
|Definition||A dietitian is a qualified health professional who helps promote good health through proper nutritional habits.||A Nutritionist is someone who works with food and nutritional science, aiming to prevent diseases related to nutrient deficiencies. Nutritionists are ofter certified by professional organizations.|
|Legal status||In many states, legally considered an expert on nutrition. Registered with the Commission of Dietetic Registration (CDR). Licensed to practice diet and nutrition consultation.||In many states, legally accepted as an expert. A Nutritionist may or may not be a qualified health professional.|
|Qualifications||A registered dietitian in the US needs to have a bachelor's degree, complete an internship, take an exam and maintain ongoing education credits.||Many Nutritionists have a Bachelor's, Master's, or a Doctorate in nutrition. Some may not have any formal education in this field.|
A nutritionist is a health specialist who devotes professional activity to food and nutritional science, preventive nutrition, diseases related to nutrient deficiencies, and the use of nutrient manipulation to enhance the clinical response to human diseases.
A dietitian is an expert in food and nutrition. Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They also supervise the preparation and service of food, develop modified diets, participate in research, and educate individuals and groups on good nutritional habits.
- a Bachelor's degree in nutrition or dietetics
- an internship for 6 to 12 months at a healthcare facility, foodservice company or nonprofit agency approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association)
- successful completion of a national exam conducted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
- Ongoing education to retain their registration as a dietitian.
Nutritionists are not required to have any such qualifications. This means nutritionists have varying levels of education -- from someone with little or no education to an individual who has obtained a bachelor’s, master’s, or even a doctoral degree. Some certifications for nutritionists include:
- Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC): must pass an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants.
- Certified Nutritionist (CN): two-year associate degree program or distance-learning program consisting of six classes; must pass an exam taken under supervision.
- Certified clinical nutritionists (CCLs): must have an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree, complete a 900-hour internship, pass exams given by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board, complete 40 continuing education hours every 2 years, and pass recertification tests every 5 years.
- Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS): attain an accredited master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition and work at least 1,000 hours in a supervised internship, pass the exam administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists, and finish 75 continuing education credits every 5 years.
A Dietitian holding a Bachelor's degree in dietetics or related areas is legally regarded as the expert in nutrition and dietary related matters. On the other hand, a Nutritionist may or may not have any educational qualification and is not a legally protected term in most parts of the world.
Video Explaining the Differences
In the following video, Ashley Sweeney, a registered dietitian, explains the differences between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist.
The types of Nutritionists are: Nutrition Scientists and Public Health Nutritionists. The former are those individuals who use the scientific method to study nutrients, both as individual compounds and as they interact in food and nutrition while the latter are specialists who aid in diagnosing the nutritional problems of communities and in finding solutions to those problems.
The different types of Dietitians include:
Clinical Dietitians: They work in hospitals and other health care facilities to provide medical nutrition therapy to patients according to the disease processes, provide individual dietary consultations to patients and their family members and also conduct group education for other health workers, patients and the public.
Community dietitians: They work with wellness programs and international health organizations.
Foodservice dietitians: They are responsible for large-scale food planning and service.
Gerontological dietitians: They are specialists in nutrition and aging. They are Board certified in Gerontological Nutrition with the American Dietetic Association.
Research dietitians: They are mostly involved with dietary related research in the clinical aspect of nutrition in disease states, public aspect on primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary health prevention and foodservice aspect in issues involving the food prepared for patients.
Administrative Dietitians: They are managers or head of their departments and have a number of dietitians in the department.
Business dietitians: These serve as resource people for the media. Dietitians' expertise in nutrition is often taped for TV, radio, and newspapers -- either as an expert guest opinion, regular columnist or guest, or for resource, restaurant, or recipe development and critique.
Consultant dietitians: These work under private practice.
RD vs RDN
As explained above, all dietitians are nutritionists but not all nutritionists have the credentials and qualifications to be called dietitians. To emphasize this, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics made two changes — first, they changed their name (for 100 years the organization was called the American Dietetic Association); second, they introduced a new title: Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). This means exactly the same thing as Registered Dietitian (RD), a term that has been in use for a long time. All RDs are RDNs but some choose to call themselves that and some do not.
LD and LDN
Further complicating matters are license requirements. While accreditation to become an RD or RDN is governed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics —a national organization — licensure is regulated by individual states. When an RD or RDN obtains a license to practice in his or her state, they can use the initials LD (or LDN, this depends upon what term the state uses) like so: Jane Doe, RDN, LD.
In order to provide medical nutrition therapy and qualify as providers for insurance companies, a dietitian must be licensed by the state.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dietitians and nutritionists is expected to increase by 20% between 2010 and 2020 — this is a much faster growth rate than the average for all occupations. Wage surveys for dietitian and nutritionist salaries show that dietitians earn an average salary of $58,000 and nutritionists an average salary of $50,000. There are substantial differences in compensation based on specialization, with Clinical Pediatric Dietitians and Dairy Nutritionists averaging approximately $90,000.
In 2014, The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the top 10% of dietitians and nutritionists earn more than $79,000, and the bottom 10% less than $36,000. A mean hourly wage of $27.62 was calculated for both sectors, with the top 10% earning above $38.00 per hour, and the bottom 10% earning below $17.00 per hour.
Dietitians and nutritionists tend to earn less than others working in similar level healthcare positions, and there are sometimes complaints that they have few opportunities for career development and are regarded as less important than pharmacists, doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals.
However, there is a variety of jobs available in different environments for those who want to work with the public, as well as for those who prefer more research-focused employment. Many get into one of these fields in order to help people live healthier lives which can be immensely rewarding. Those wishing to work for themselves have the option of setting up private practices while some are employed as consultants for large corporations needing nutrition advice.
With current statistics that one-third of the U.S. population is obese, as well as a large number of elderly U.S. residents, dietitians and nutritionists are likely to have a more extensive role in the future. My Plan ranks dietitians and nutritionists at #53 in their happiness index of top 300 careers with the highest job satisfaction ratings.